Chicago’s St John Cantius Parish
Recipe for success: Take one nearly-abandoned, formerly Polish-Catholic neighborhood in a troubled American big city. Add a decrepit 19th century church building, with ten tons of pigeon droppings in its attic. Mix in a brand-new community of priests and brothers dedicated to helping Catholics rediscover a profound sense of the sacred – and voila! Less than 20 years later, you have a thriving parish exploding with vitality.
Seems unlikely? Ah, ye of little faith! You must have a look at what the Spirit hath wrought at St John Cantius parish in Chicago in this exclusive Regina Magazine interview with Father C. Frank Phillips, C.R.(Congregation of the Resurrection).
Father Phillips is the founder of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in 1998, under then-Cardinal Francis George. Canons, originally groups of clerics gathered around a local bishop, were an ancient phenomenon and theirs is the oldest form of clerical religious life in the West. Ever since, this community of priests and brothers has grown, opening new apostolates and attracting many young vocations. (Editor’s Note: Click here for more information)
EXPLAINING THE FAITH TO ARCHITECTURE FANS: A Canon conducts a tour of St. John Cantius for the curious and the art-inspired on Chicago Open House Day 2013.
REGINA: Father Phillips, what was the neighborhood like around St John Cantius in the late 1990s?
When I arrived at St. John’s, the neighborhood was mostly industrial. From a thriving compact neighborhood with many families, due to the construction of the highway and neighborhood change, our area was desolate. There were just a handful of old time parishioners left in the immediate area around the church, but mainly empty lots and industrial buildings.
REGINA: What was the size of your parish when you began?
When I took over we had less than 200 registered individuals and few of those came on Sunday. At two Sunday Masses we may have had a total of 75 people on a good Sunday.
REGINA: What is it today?
Now we have over 2000 registered. When I arrived there was one child in the congregation. Now there are hundreds. We have large families, and the membership is mostly young—in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s plus naturally a number of more seasoned and mature members.
ST JOHN’S YOUNG CONGREGATION: “When I arrived there was one child in the congregation. Now there are hundreds.” – Fr Phillips
FOUNDED BY POLISH IMMIGRANTS AT THE END OF THE 19TH CENTURY, St John Cantius parish today represents a broad cross-section of every ethnic, socio-economic and age group.
A YOUNG PARISHIONER on the steps of St. John Cantius, decorated for the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2014.
ALTAR SERVERS AT ST. JOHN CANTIUS: “Today we continue to draw from all over the city and suburbs as well as Indiana, Wisconsin and at times even Michigan.” – Fr Phillips
REGINA: Where does St John Cantius’s congregation come from?
From the very foundation our parish was “non-territorial” so we drew people from every corner of the city, due to the Polish heritage. Today we continue to draw from all over the city and suburbs as well as Indiana, Wisconsin and at times even Michigan. This is because of the Mass offered in the Extraordinary Form as well as the Ordinary Form in Latin and the treasury of use of Liturgical Music.
YOUNG CATHOLICS: A big crowd came from St John Cantius to the Washington March for Life, 2014
REGINA: What was the condition of the church when you arrived?
Upon my arrival I realized that the physical fabric of the buildings had been neglected for over 60 years — ‘deferred maintenance’ is what they call it. In other words, just put a Bandaid on it and duct tape to see how long it will last.
In the church some thirteen radiators had been removed rather than repaired. The boilers ran 24/7 in the winter. They had not been maintained, or cleaned.
The chimney had not been cleaned in over 90 years. The stained glass windows were ready to collapse, and ten tons of pigeon droppings were in the attic of the church.
Anyway the place survived.
SACRED MUSIC AT ST JOHN CANTIUS: The rich musical heritage of the Faith is fostered at the parish, which features several choirs as well as the Healey Willan Society .
CATHOLIC CULTURE: “St. John Cantius has that unique Catholic culture that makes me come back every Sunday and makes me want to give everything that I have to the parish.” Joseph Ravago, parishioner.
OVER 2000 CATHOLICS ARE PARISHIONERS TODAY: “We have large families, and the membership is mostly young—in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s plus naturally a number of more seasoned and mature members.” – Fr Phillips
CORPUS CHRISTI PROCESSION 2014: “As our charism, the ‘restoration of the sacred’ points out, sacred beauty draws us into the mystery of our Faith. That is the beauty of the building, sacred music, vesture, ceremonies, etc.” Fr. Phillips
NEW VOCATIONS TO THE CANONS REGULAR OF ST. JOHN CANTIUS: On December 23, 2014, the feast of St. John Cantius, at Solemn Vespers, four novices received the Rosary, collar, and sash of the Habit of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius: Br. Joseph Brom, Br. Joseph Janidlo, Br. Quinn Huston, and Br. Daniel Mikołajewski.
A WHOLE NEW GENERATION OF CATHOLICS is growing up with the Faith at St John Cantius in the heart of Chicago.
REGINA: Are you finding that the young are attracted to the TLM?
The young are attracted to the TLM. As they did not grow up with the Traditional Mass, this “new experience” has confirmed them in the practice of the Faith.
REGINA: Are you also attracting converts?
The TLM is also a source of conversions to the Catholic Faith. I have had Baptisms, Lutherans, Agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims make the leap of faith to the Faith.
One individual told me that when he entered our church, he was struck by the beauty, the fragrance of incense, the music and “what was going on in the front” — the altar, the priest and servers etc. He said that he fell to his knees and just began to cry.
ADULT CATHOLIC GROUPS QUO VADIS AND JUVENTUTEM are quite active at St. John Cantius Parish.
For more information contact:
825 N. Carpenter St.
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 243-4545 –fax
PHOTO CREDITS: ST JOHN CANTIUS PARISH
LEARNING AT ST JOHN CANTIUS: The Canons Regular offer online multimedia tutorials for the celebration of the liturgy of the Roman Rite
Saint John Cantius: Restoring the Sacred
The true story of a dying parish miraculously restored to life.
ON ASSIGNMENT investigates how a decaying old church in Chicago became a thriving religious and cultural treasure. Once an integral part of Chicago’s Northwest-side, Saint John Cantius Parish fell victim to the city’s numerous street and freeway expansions. Frequented more by pigeons than people for nearly 30 years, the church was destined for the wrecking ball when Father Frank Phillips, a priest with no parish experience, was appointed pastor. Soon after his arrival, Father Phillips was inspired with an idea that would change everything.
Masterfully photographed, with key scenes underscored by the sacred music of Saint John Cantius orchestra and choirs, ON ASSIGNMENT‘s presentation of this incredible true story will leave you believing in miracles. The video is available on DVD here